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The Guardian: US lobbying scuppers Shell sale to Iran

The Guardian: US lobbying scuppers Shell sale to Iran

Terry Macalister

Thursday May 5, 2005

Shell appears to have bowed to American pressure and backed out of a $4.4bn (£2.3bn) plan to sell a chemical business to Iran, for fear of damaging its extensive US interests.

The oil group had been in final talks with Iran’s National Petrochemical Company about Basell – the world’s largest producer of plastic polypropylene, which is owned 50-50 by Shell and Germany’s BASF.

The Iranians said yesterday that their planned purchase had been blocked, just 24 hours after the country vowed to push ahead with its nuclear activities. “Although NPC won all aspects of the Basell tender, due to US pressures we are unofficially told Iran cannot buy Basell,” said Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, managing director of NPC, in an interview with the ISNA news agency in Tehran. The sale of the chemical operation is an important part of a Shell strategy to dispose of up to $15bn worth of assets as it restructures following the oil reserves scandal last year.

As recently as Saturday, the Iranians were saying they expected to win Basell, which has a British business based in Chester and is a key provider of plastics for everything from steering wheels to packaging.

A US state department offi cial told Reuters at the weekend that Washington had expressed its concerns to Shell and BASF that Basell technology could be misused.

A spokeswoman for the Anglo-Dutch oil group declined to clarify how far talks with NPC had gone. “I cannot comment. Offers for the company have been received and advanced discussions are taking place,” she said.

Shell said it was still hopeful of meeting its original timetable of selling the business in the first half of this year. Alternative talks are understood to be under way with an Indian group, Haldia Petrochemicals, which bid less than NPC.

The US continues to impose a trade embargo on Iran because of fears that its nuclear programme is ultimately aimed at producing weapons.

No Iranian firm is allowed to hold assets in the United States and a Basell purchase is complicated by the chemical firm having interests in the US that Shell considered offloading separately. While the US might have little legal objection to the sale to Iran by Shell, the Anglo-Dutch group has major oil interests that could be at risk in any backlash.

Lord Browne, the BP chief executive, triggered anger in Tehran when he said it was “impractical” for his company to invest in Iran “because 40% of BP is in the US”.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,3604,1476764,00.html

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